Children attracted to human trafficking
FORT MYERS, Fla .– Seventy percent of human trafficking cases in Lee County involve children and advocates say in some cases it happens under parental watch.
Jamie Walton started the Wayne Foundation in Charlotte County to help victims of human trafficking and for her, this work is personal.
“I was advertising for sex.”
At 13, Jamie met his trafficker online. They chatted for several months and then one day Jamie said he asked if he could come visit him. After that, Jamie said his trafficker started taking her with him to Atlanta and would sell her in the evening.
“He would book plane tickets for me. I used car service to get to the airport and always flew out of Tampa. I’ll fly to Atlanta. He would pick me up at this airport. I would stay in his condo and he would advertise me online, on certain websites… Things like finding adult friends, the AOL bulletin board… I would meet these people at night, usually in hotels and establishments very big class.
Jamie says she would tell her mom she was staying with a friend and would be home on Monday.
“I was enrolled in school all the time, so I guess there weren’t any red flags.”
Yaro Garcia is Clinical Director at ACT (abuse, advice, treatment) in Lee County. She says that the stigmatization of victims of human trafficking is often wrong.
“I think ignorance shows people that the victims of this crime can be someone from another country or an illegal alien or maybe an elderly person who uses drugs,” she says. “We had scenarios where it’s not a troublesome house and there is no abuse, the simple problem is that the mother and father are really busy working… They are working hard and it is starting to get worse. producing with this kid with the very simple process that I keep talking about, a cute guy who approached them and told them how beautiful they are. It started out as a regular romantic relationship that then turned into this and mom and dad have no idea what’s going on.
Garcia says the majority of the cases she deals with involve children, typically between the ages of 12 and 14, and in some cases these victims are sold up to 45 times in a day.
“The amount of exploitation that we see with these cases, we have never seen.”
Eileen Wesley also works with victims of trafficking through Project assistance in Napoli. She says these kids are often recruited through parties or online.
“There are raves, there are occasions where a band is playing and the human traffickers strategically place themselves at these events and these girls are being watched and they are watching to see who is vulnerable. They make them addicted to drugs, they get them drunk… All of a sudden, they build this so called bill with the person they are partying with, then we ask them for a payment and if they don’t have the money. money, then they’ll say okay, then you’ve got to do something for us.
Wesley says that in some cases these kids are forced to work from the time they leave school until their parents come home.
“What happens is they pay their bill but then there is interest on the bill, so it lasts quite a long time and if they don’t want to do it, the trafficker or the trafficker then we’ll say ‘I’m just going to talk to your parents.
Advocates often say that the trafficker is manipulative, making it difficult for the victim to leave.
“I didn’t want to engage with these people, it’s not something I really wanted, but what I wanted was love… One of the things my trafficker would tell me frequently was that ‘he was in love with me and he was going, he even called me his fiance, that he was going to marry me. Basically, he was going to be my knight in shining armor and take me, ”she explains.
Eventually Jamie was approached by a friend who helped her out of her predicament and now she is working diligently to help other people in similar situations. She says the first thing parents can do is monitor your child’s activity on their phone and computer. Know what apps they’re downloading to their phone and who they’re talking to online.
If you know someone who needs help or if you need help you can text “Be free” (233733).